Checking in with our students

By Lisa Paciulli, Claire Gordy, Joy Little, Melissa Ramirez, and Maria Gallardo-Williams
Illustration credit: McKenna Vecca, Social Media Specialist, College of Sciences
As faculty members most of us are not qualified mental health professionals, but the compassionate act of asking our students to tell us how they are doing can go a long way in establishing a safe and inviting classroom environment during these trying times. From graphic scales (sometimes humorous) to additions to your learning management system, checking in shows our students that we care about what is going on in their lives, and it can be done in ways that don’t interfere with the class time devoted to content delivery.

Most students appreciate it when their professors show genuine concern for them. This helps students feel as though faculty really care about their wellbeing as individuals rather than just another body and/or a number in a class. Faculty can demonstrate that they care about student wellness by asking students how they are doing with quick check-ins. Showing a graphic scale and asking students to annotate and identify which one of the images, expressions, etc. exhibited most represents how they feel at the moment can take as little as a few minutes of class time. Padlet is another tool that can be leveraged for anonymous check-ins. In addition, faculty can utilize the HTML blocks on Moodle to feature these check ins. These can even be interactive and anonymous for students (example).

Examples of popular, “How are you doing,” wellness check-ins range from the cute rubber duck, dog, cat, and Baby Yoda scales to a string of celebrity images (e.g., Meryl Streep, Beyonce), and newsworthy personalities like the Scale of Fauci. Some faculty even make their own scales related to what is trending on social media such as a Scale of Bernie (Sanders) or graphic scales related to their institution like a scale of wolves representing the NC State mascot. Some scales include sounds as a component, in addition to images, which makes them more inclusive.

An interesting benefit of using these wellness check-in scales is that students seem to not only enjoy doing them, but the sense of anonymity when selecting their mood on a scale – students simply make a mark and after, there is no name identification – allows students to select emotions other than the typical niceties elicited by someone asking, “How are you doing?” In many cultures, the usual and expected response to such queries is, “Fine,” “Good,” “Well,” or something along those lines. In contrast, many of us have found that graphic scales seem to be eliciting more honest and informative responses from students than when people are verbally asked how they are feeling.

If you find that you have students who are struggling and you are looking to help them, we would like to recommend the following resource:

Mental Health Resources for Faculty: A Guide for Helping Students in Distress.